ABC’s fake “Desperate Housewives” meets Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County” in this wholly unconvincing unscripted series, which uses voiceover narration and musical montages to further blur the lines between drama and reality. The result is a “book club” where nobody actually reads the books and the female members are all affixed with shorthand labels based on marital status, as in “trophy wife,” “doctor’s wife” and “loyal wife.” Curiosity could breed tune-in, but this is strictly a cheap knockoff for those who can’t survive a summer hiatus from housewives married to, and often equipped with, oversized boobs.
CBS doesn’t exercise much creativity in terms of locales, situating the program in Scottsdale, Ariz., another upscale warm-weather climate. The series also comes from the Jay & Tony Show, which trafficked in suburban stereotypes in “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” only to see ABC shelve that project due to its political incorrectness — a concern unlikely to beset this soapy nonsense, though the “characters” are equally cartoonish.
The biggest problem with “Tuesday Night Book Club,” however, is that despite insisting the participants “are not actors,” all the situations feel staged. It’s as if each woman was instructed to sit down with her spouse and discuss their relationship while pretending to ignore the camera crew.
In most reality shows, such exchanges are amplified through direct-to-camera interviews. “Book Club” instead tries to bridge those gaps through an omniscient narrator and musical interludes designed to convey how the vacant-looking characters are feeling, and thus resembles a perfume ad as frequently as it does a TV show.
In part for that reason, the characters initially have less depth than a postage stamp, from the “trophy wife” with the unattractive swinger hubby to the “loyal wife” hitched to a recovering addict — another scenario borrowed from “Real Housewives,” which at least qualified as a guilty pleasure. By contrast, the obvious attempt here is to concoct a docu-soap on the cheap by having real women follow a preordained script. (In a conference call, the producers rejected the notion that any scripting was involved, but the program credits eight “story producers,” which is roughly the size of a conventional writing staff.)
Tears flow freely during the premiere, most of them coming from “conflicted wife” Jamie, 25, who met her husband at 16 and is allegedly watching the marriage unravel. There’s also friction between “newlyweds” Lynn and Eddie, whose performances mirror the current movie “The Break-Up,” down to his resistance to helping her set up for a party.
And yes, no joke, none of the seven women professes to have read the first book, which merely provides an excuse to assemble them for a stagy gabfest. The producers say all but two members were part of the club before filming, though few appear close or comfortable with each other.
In that respect, ABC’s Wisteria Lane quartet, with their scripted friendship, seems far more “real” than anything that transpires here — or maybe they’re just better actresses. Either way, you can’t say “so long” to this neighborhood soon enough.